Local trio Pit Er Pat overhaul their sound pretty radically on the excellent new High Time (Thrill Jockey), embracing intuitive exploration like never before. They’ve threaded a few of the tunes with fragile pop melodies, but throughout the album the real emphasis is on the nexus of wide-open grooves and richly varied tone colors that occurs in dub.
Nobody will ever confuse Pit Er Pat with a reggae band (though they do toss in a fractured digital dancehall riddim on “Trod-a-Long”), but on High Time drummer Butchy Fuego and bassist Rob Doran have chilled way out, at least compared to the occasionally somewhat spastic, overbusy rhythms of the group’s earlier work. And primary vocalist Fay Davis-Jeffers spends more time weaving airy electric-guitar lines into the mix than she does hammering down her usual keyboard riffs–when she does play keys, as on “My Darkers,” it feels much calmer and more atmospheric. Album closer “The Good Morning Song” presents an unlikely marriage–the most beautiful and layered wordless vocal harmonies the group has ever attempted, lovingly cradled by a swirling loop of marimba that’s anchored to a surprisingly powerful descending bass lines–and it’s a total knockout.
A number of tracks benefit from elegant horn arrangements courtesy of Dylan Ryan, better known as the drummer in Herculaneum and Icy Demons; they don’t merely gild the songs but rather dig their serene, hypnotic tendrils deep into the sonic soil. And close listening reveals lots of dub detail–subtle echoing effects, elusive little instrumental figures, and other assorted elliptical filigree, all of which pans, skitters, or dances across the deep grooves. The band took its time making the album at its own Top Cat Studios, and the care and patience is evident in music’s richness. At the same time, there’s still something homemade and brittle about Pit Er Pat’s sound, as if it could all crumble at any second, a quality that magnificently heightens the tension–the luxuriant textures and cool pace pull one way, while a pesky rhythmic twitch and a degree of raggedness pull in another.
I haven’t seen the group play live in a while, so I can’t say how much of this they’re able to pull off onstage. You’ll have a chance to find out tonight, when the group opens for DMBQ at the Abbey Pub. The show kicks off Pit Er Pat’s U.S. tour and will probably be your last chance to catch them here for a couple months.